Nebraska fan, Jeff Morrick, sent us a great piece on what it will take for Nebraska to beat Michigan. Jeff can be found on Twitter by following @TheRedOne93
You RED It Here First
Saturday night marks a titanic B1G clash in Memorial Stadium as the Huskers welcome the newly minted 900 win Wolverines of Michigan. The importance of this game for both teams can not be overstated as it appears the winner will be in control of the Legends division and have a leg up on a trip to Indianapolis for the B1G Championship Game.
This will be a classic matchup of the ‘Immovable object’ vs the ‘Irresistable force’, as Michigan boasts the conference’s top ranked defense while the Big Red features the league’s most prolific offense. In conference play, UM is surrending less than 8 ppg, including a shutout of hapless Illinois – Conversely, Nebraska is averaging over 32 ppg. Gaining yards, let alone points, against UM will be no small feat, however I will explain how and why the Huskers will come out on top.
Both teams reach this point in the season with a 5-2 overall mark, yet Michigan’s two losses (against top ranked Alabama and a very stout Notre Dame) are far ‘better’ losses than Nebraska’s (UCLA and Ohio State). It would be easy to say that the key to the Husker’s success is stopping Michigan’s do-everything quarterback Denard Robinson; but I think there are 3 other specific areas which favor the Huskers in this matchup.
First, though, let’s talk about how NU can slow down ‘Shoelace’. Youth will be served on the Blackshirts as a ton of uber-athletic underclassmen appear ready for the challenge. Speed, speed, speed is evident when Safety/LB hybrid Corey Cooper (So.) and LB David Santos (RFr.) are on the field. And the Huskers will need TONS of speed if they hope to contain Robinson. While containing mobile QBs hasn’t been NU’s strong suit (see Miller, Braxton), the Husker’s improved gameplan against Northwestern showed that the coaching staff is up to the challenge of D-Rob. Also enter new D-line coach, formerly of Iowa, Rick Kaczenski. His theory of the zero-blitz has neutralized, to a degree, Robinson’s effectiveness in Michigan’s battles with Iowa over the years. Iowa was 3-0 vs Michigan during his tenure. I expect the Blackshirts to primarily play a 3-5-3, putting as much speed on the field as possible. The D-line rotation should include Baker Steinkuhler (Sr.), Cameron Meredith (Sr.), Joe Carter (Sr.) , Jason Ankrah (Sr.)and pass-rushing specialist Eric Martin (Sr.). Martin will be key when Michigan is put in 3rd and long or other obvious passsing situations. But the youngsters to watch out for are true Freshmen Avery Moss and Aaron Curry. The 5 LBs should include mainstay Will Compton (Sr.) in the middle plus Alonzo Whaley (Sr.), Sean Fisher (Sr.), and the aforementioned Cooper and Evans. The latter will have the most signifcant roles, as they’ll be asked to not only help contain Michigan’s waterbug QB, but also cover the slot receivers and any backs out of the backfield. Their great play is vital for a Husker win. Evans has arguably been Nebraska’s most consistent defender all season, and Cooper has gotten better each and every week. I expect this trend to continue as the Blackshirts live up to their name and keep Robinson under wraps.
Now on to the other keys to success for the Big Red:
NU’s do-everything back, Rex Burkhead (Sr.), is still limited with a knee injury suffered earlier in the season. Simply put, he’s just not himself. Mr. Silver Lining here, however, sees this as a positive for Nebraska. Sure, I can hear all the Husker fans moaning and groaning, calling me crazy….”How can we be better WITHOUT Burkhead??” I’ll explain: Rex is a great between-the-tackles runner, does well in pass blocking, and has sure hands out of the backfield. But what he lacks is elite speed…and that’s what Michigan’s D is all about. We need a guy with that ‘make you miss’, and when he does he needs to have the ability to take it to the house – enter Ameer Abdullah (So.). The youngster from Homewood, AL (yep, we stole one from SEC country) has been nothing short of magnificent in Burkhead’s absence. Ameer has had 3 – 100 yard games so far, highlighted by a 167 yard performance on 30 totes vs Arkansas State. He’s an excellent receiver, improved blocker, and on the watch list for the Jet Trophy, an award that goes to the nation’s top return man. Although only 5’9″, 185lbs, Ameer is incredibly durable and tough as nails. He’s also a beast in the weight room as he boasts a squat max of over 500 lbs! The running lanes for #8 will be opened up by an improved run-blocking O-line and a true Freshman STUD fullback, Gretna’s own Andy Janovich. Janovich is a monster, having finished high school with a perfect 99-0 record as a wrestler – he’s also cowboy tough as he wrestles cattle in his spare time. The Wolverine LBs had better not take him lightly, or they’ll find themselves staring up at that beautiful Nebraska sky. When Abdullah needs a breather, he’ll be relieved by multi-dimensional Braylon Heard (So.) and another true Freshman Imani Cross. Cross (6’1″, 225lbs) is the typical ‘bruiser-back’ – when he first arrived in Lincoln and was put through his initial strength tests, he knocked out 200 pushups and 40 pullups without a break- when Wolverine fans first see this kid they’ll think he’s a 40 year old grown man…he certainly ‘looks the part’.
The next advantage I see for NU is their prolific passing attack. The Huskers boast what is clearly the best group of WRs in the league, if not in the entire NCAA. Sophomore Kenny Bell is the B1G’s best – he’s got great hands, is super quick, and has that ‘won’t get caught from behind’ speed that’s so important when playing an athletic defense like Michigan’s. Opposite Bell is Quincy Enunwa (Jr.), while not as fast as KB makes up for it with incredible strength. Rarely does one defender bring Enunwa down, and his downfield, acrobatic catches last week in Evanston were critical to NU’s comeback win. Both Bell and Enunwa are outstanding downfield blockers – remember this when Taylor or Ameer break a long run. The slot is manned by Tim Marlowe (Sr.) and Jamal Turner (So.). JT is the one to watch here as Marlowe, while a great possession receiver, is coming off a broken collarbone and just doens’t possess the game-changing qualities Turner does. Jamal is a threat to score every time he touches the ball as he’s certainly one of, if not THE most electric athlete on the team – and that’s saying a mouthful considering this team features lightning fast QB Taylor Martinez (Jr.). Other WRs who’ll see significant playing time are Taariq Allen (RFr.), Steven Osborne (Sr.), Taylor Dixon (Sr.) and Tyler Evans (So.). Also, the Wolverines LBs need to be ready for the Husker’s set of Senior Tight Ends. Kyler Reed, nicknamed Speed, is the burner while Ben Cotton is the more accomplished blocker and red-zone threat. Clearly, Martinez has quite an arsenal at his disposal – the key is the O-line giving him the time necessary to find his targets – I expect they will and I see Martinez having another 300 yard passing game Saturday night under the lights.
Which brings me to my final point: Under the lights in Memorial Stadium. Oh yeah, the Old Girl will be rockin’! The only two B1G conference night games to date were 2011 vs Ohio State and earlier this year hosting Wisconsin. Those games happened to feature NU’s largest and second-largest come from behind wins ever. And the crowd had ALOT to do with both! Nebraska will be giving out black rally towels to all in attendance Saturday night in appreciation of the consecutive sellout streak. We’ve sold out every home game since November 3rd, 1962!! That’s 50 years of sellouts, and counting! Just ask any of the Badgers how loud we got while the Blackshirts were shutting them down in the second half. During that game, only the students were equipped with towels, but when Zombie Nation started playing right after halftime, the whole mood of the stadium changed – it was an awesome experience! This time, EVERYONE will be waving that BLACK towel – and not one Husker will leave with their voice. Be prepared, Michigan fans, it’s gonna get L.O.U.D!!!
Nebraska will have to limit penalties, stay ahead of the chains, and not turn the ball over giving D-Rob and Co. a short field. IF, and that’s a big if, they do so the crowd will be so in to it that I think the Michigan offense will find it very tough to get anything going. If the Big Red digs another hole and finds themselves down a couple scores early, well, it could be a long disappointing night for the Husker faithful. I expect the former, and I see Nebraska escaping with a closely fought 29-27 victory. Hail Varsity, There Is No Place Like Nebraska!!
Other B1G predictions for the weekend: Look for Wisconsin to beat an already beaten Michigan State bunch 27-10, Northwestern gets back on track against Iowa with a 30-19 win, Indiana should get a rare road win when they visit Illinois – call it 42-17, Minnesota holds off Purdue 20-17, and in the Ineligi-bowl I see Penn State knocking off Ohio State 23-20.
Good luck to both teams, and Go Big Red!!!